The family of Loretta Saunders, dealing with the enormity of her murder, was thinking of others Friday, thanking all those who have supported them.
Saunders’ aunt, Barb Coffey, said the full impact of the horrific crime likely won’t sink in until Saunders is brought back home to Labrador. Saunders, who was a student at Saint Mary’s University, is from Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
“It does not seem real, not fully real yet,” said Coffey, who was still in Halifax, where one of the two accused killers made a court appearance Friday. “It is something we will have to work through on a daily basis.”
Coffey thanked all the volunteers who helped spread posters — when it was a missing persons case and before Saunders’ body was found — as well as those who offered kind thoughts to the family.
She said the family is also grateful to the aboriginal community, the media, Saint Mary’s University and Provincial Airlines, among the organizations that have helped out.
Saunders’ sister, Delilah Terriak, and brother, Edmund, spoke to the media early in what was then a disappearance case.
“They helped other people see who Loretta was. It made it real for other people,” Coffey said of the coverage.
The country lost a potentially valuable social justice advocate, said an Ottawa woman who compiled a massive database on missing and murdered women that identified more than 824 aboriginal victims before Saunders’ murder.
Maryanne Pearce, an Ottawa civil servant who wrote a doctor of laws thesis based on a nearly 3,000-name database of missing and murdered Canadian women, did not know Saunders, but followed news reports of her disappearance, which this week became a murder case.
Saunders, 26, was researching missing and murdered aboriginal women for a thesis and was to graduate this spring. She intended to become a lawyer with a focus on aboriginal justice.
Saunders disappeared Feb. 13. This week, police found her body and charged a man and a woman with murder.
“When I heard Loretta Saunders’ body had been located, that night I just shut my computer down. I couldn’t do it anymore. I just was very, very sad for the family,” said Pearce, who began her research several years ago focusing on aboriginal women, but expanded it.
“That one hits home because she was working on something very similar.
“It’s a senseless tragedy. The very sad tragic irony of her social justice passion and what she was going to embark on at a scholarly level, then to become part of what she was going to study, it’s very, very sad. … We need people and it sounded like she had an excellent project. Goodness knows where she would have gone with that. Regardless of her studies, the loss of her and her unborn child is very, very sad.”
On Friday, the two people charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Saunders had their case adjourned until March 19.
Blake Leggette, 25, and Victoria Henneberry, 28, were charged after Saunders’s body was found earlier this week in New Brunswick.
There was an outburst as Leggette appeared in Halifax provincial court Friday, when a man from the public gallery cried out “gutless coward” three times. Henneberry did not appear in court.
Coffey told The Telegram the outburst did not come from any of Saunders’ relatives as the family is determined to let the justice system do its work.
“We didn’t say anything in anger,” Coffey said.
Seeing Leggette in court was obviously difficult, and Saunders’ siblings who were present had hoped Leggette would look them in the face, but he did not, she said.
In a show of the family’s strength, Coffey said Saunders’ parents, Miriam and Clayton, who are mourning for their daughter in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, are also praying for the family of the accused.
“My family are not selfless,” Coffey said.
“Even when we are hurting, this is part of who we are.”
Halifax police allege Saunders was killed Feb. 13, the day she was last seen, at a Halifax apartment she once shared with the two accused. Police could not say how long the three lived together.
Police say Henneberry and Leggette were in a relationship.
At a news conference earlier in the week, Saunders’ boyfriend said he last saw her as she was leaving his home to check on an apartment he said she was subletting to Leggette and Henneberry.
She was three months pregnant.
Saunders’ disappearance triggered a search and public appeals from her family for help in finding the young Inuit woman. Dozens of supporters papered the city with posters showing a smiling Saunders.
Her body was found Wednesday in a median off Route 2 of the Trans-Canada Highway west of Moncton, N.B.
Police have not given details of how Saunders died. Her body is at the medical examiner’s office in Saint John, N.B., where an autopsy will be carried out.
In a Halifax media scrum Friday, Saunder’s sister Delilah Terriak, said she was frustrated that the Stephen Harper government has turned down requests in the past for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
“She hasn’t died in vain and we just want to thank you all,” Terriak told reporters in the scrum, posted on the Chronicle Herald website.
Coffey said the family put their trust in the police and they came through.
“Not very often are aboriginal women returned, and she’s been returned,” Coffey said, adding it’s important an inquiry be held because of the huge number of cases in Canada.
Coffey said Terriak will accompany her sister’s remains home when the body is released after the autopsy.